|C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the Worlds Best Literature.|
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.
|To the Lord Chancellor, Touching the History of Britain|
|By Francis Bacon (15611626)|
From Letters and Life, by James Spedding
|It may please your good Lordship:|
SOME late act of his Majesty, referred to some former speech which I have heard from your Lordship, bred in me a great desire, and by strength of desire a boldness to make an humble proposition to your Lordship, such as in me can be no better than a wish: but if your Lordship should apprehend it, may take some good and worthy effect. The act I speak of, is the order given by his Majesty, as I understand, for the erection of a tomb or monument for our late sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth: wherein I may note much, but this at this time; that as her Majesty did always right to his Highnesss hopes, so his Majesty doth in all things right to her memory; a very just and princely retribution. But from this occasion, by a very easy ascent, I passed furder, being put in mind, by this Representative of her person, of the more true and more firm Representative, which is of her life and government. For as Statuaes and Pictures are dumb histories, so histories are speaking Pictures. Wherein if my affection be not too great, or my reading too small, I am of this opinion, that if Plutarch were alive to write lives by parallels, it would trouble him for virtue and fortune both to find for her a parallel amongst women. And though she was of the passive sex, yet her government was so active, as, in my simple opinion, it made more impression upon the several states of Europe, than it received from thence. But I confess unto your Lordship I could not stay here, but went a little furder into the consideration of the times which have passed since King Henry the 8th; wherein I find the strangest variety that in like number of successions of any hereditary monarchy hath ever been known. The reign of a child; the offer of an usurpation (though it were but as a Diary Ague); the reign of a lady married to a foreign Prince; and the reign of a lady solitary and unmarried. So that as it cometh to pass in massive bodies, that they have certain trepidations and waverings before they fix and settle; so it seemeth that by the providence of God this monarchy, before it was to settle in his Majesty and his generations (in which I hope it is now established for ever), it had these prelusive changes in these barren princes. Neither could I contain myself here (as it is easier to produce than to stay a wish), but calling to remembrance the unworthiness of the history of England (in the main continuance thereof), and the partiality and obliquity of that of Scotland, in the latest and largest author that I have seen: I conceived it would be honor for his Majesty, and a work very memorable, if this island of Great Britain, as it is now joined in Monarchy for the ages to come, so were joined in History for the times past; and that one just and complete History were compiled of both nations. And if any man think it may refresh the memory of former discords, he may satisfy himself with the verse, olim hæc meminisse juvabit: for the case being now altered, it is matter of comfort and gratulation to remember former troubles.
| Thus much, if it may please your Lordship, was in the optative mood. It is true that I did look a little in the potential; wherein the hope which I conceived was grounded upon three observations. The first, of the times, which do flourish in learning, both of art and language; which giveth hope not only that it may be done, but that it may be well done. For when good things are undertaken in ill times, it turneth but to loss; as in this very particular we have a fresh example of Polydore Vergile, who being designed to write the English History by K. Henry the 8th (a strange choice to chuse a stranger), and for his better instruction having obtained into his hands many registers and memorials out of the monasteries, did indeed deface and suppress better things than those he did collect and reduce. Secondly, I do see that which all the world seeth in his Majesty, both a wonderful judgment in learning and a singular affection towards learning, and the works of true honor which are of the mind and not of the hand. For there cannot be the like honor sought in the building of galleries, or the planting of elms along highways, and the like manufactures, things rather of magnificence than of magnanimity, as there is in the uniting of states, pacifying of controversies, nourishing and augmenting of learning and arts, and the particular actions appertaining unto these; of which kind Cicero judged truly, when he said to Cæsar, Quantum operibus tuis detrahet vetustas, tantum addet laudibus. And lastly, I called to mind, that your Lordship at sometimes hath been pleased to express unto me a great desire, that something of this nature should be performed; answerably indeed to your other noble and worthy courses and actions, wherein your Lordship sheweth yourself not only an excellent Chancellor and Counselor, but also an exceeding favorer and fosterer of all good learning and virtue, both in men and matters, persons and actions: joining and adding unto the great services towards his Majesty, which have, in small compass of time, been accumulated upon your Lordship, many other deservings both of the Church and Commonwealth and particulars; so as the opinion of so great and wise a man doth seem unto me a good warrant both of the possibility and worth of this matter. But all this while I assure myself, I cannot be mistaken by your Lordship, as if I sought an office or employment for myself. For no man knoweth better than your Lordship, that (if there were in me any faculty thereunto, as I am most unable), yet neither my fortune nor profession would permit it. But because there be so many good painters both for hand and colors, it needeth but encouragement and instructions to give life and light unto it.|| 2|
| So in all humbleness I conclude my presenting to your good Lordship this wish: that if it perish it is but a loss of that which is not. And thus craving pardon that I have taken so much time from your Lordship, I always remain|
Your Lps. very humbly and much bounden
FR. BACON. GRAYS INN, this 2d of April, 1605.